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Incoming Freshmen: What’s The Best Dorm For You?

For anyone who has ever thought about housing or has had to select somewhere to live on campus, it can certainly be a stressful and overwhelming time. Without even including off-campus living, there are a handful of options and areas to live on campus, and they each have their pros and cons. Deciding where to spend a year of your college life is tough enough, but selecting your residential area as a senor in high school? Even more stressful.

Here’s a helpful guide and summary of each residential area available to you to request as an incoming freshman so you can avoid closing your eyes and picking a random one and hoping for the best. Though life as a college freshman is a blast and exciting no matter where you end up, making sure you spend a year in the best possible location on campus for YOU can really enhance your first year experience.

North Halls

North Halls Stock

About North Halls:

Though the smallest housing complex on campus, many first-year students live in the all-coed North Halls. Located near The Palmer Museum of Art and The Playhouse Theatre, North Halls is the underdog of campus housing, but simultaneously a pleasant and an ultimately peaceful area to live. North Halls is also close to University Libraries, Penn State museums, and the Eisenhower Chapel. It’s the closest dorm area to the beautiful arboretum, perfectly fit for a scenic stroll during the warmer seasons.

The Pros:

“North Halls is a great place for studying because it is always quiet. Although people think that it is not close to the heart of campus, it really isn’t that far away. It’s only a 10 minute walk to the HUB, and a five minute walk to the library. Each suite has its own bathroom, which is incredible. The dorms are carpeted, and the air conditioning and the heat is all controlled within each room. Housing comes to clean the bathroom once a month, so it’s really not that hard to keep up. We have two basketball courts and two volleyball courts. All around, there is just more space. The dining halls are never crowded, and they still have a wide selection of food to choose from.”  — Caitlyn Edgell

The Cons:

If you are looking for the classic experience as a freshman and want be surrounded by friends your age, North is probably not the best for you.

“On the downside, it is a little harder to have the ‘freshman experience’ because everyone keeps their doors closed and the halls are not singularly devoted to freshmen. It’s important to attend welcome week activities to get to know the people in the building, or else it is difficult to make friends.”  — Edgell

Our Ultimatum:

North is good for a student who likes to have more space and enjoys a more comfortable living environment. There’s a lot more storage and room to spread out. North is also good for people who don’t like to party a lot and like to go to sleep at a decent time. If you like being able to have your own bathroom and only share it with three other people, North may be perfect for you. It’s a really quaint living area that has a more homey feel than a typical dorm room. If you value comfort and peace over a lively social scene, North should be a consideration for you.

South Halls

South Halls Stock Atherton Hall3

About South Halls:

South Halls is nestled between the Penn State campus on its northwestern side and downtown State College on the other. South Halls offers coed residence halls, while Simmons and Atherton Halls are primarily filled with Schreyer Honors College students. Sorority chapters reside in Cooper, Cross, Ewing, Haller, Hoyt, and Lyons Hall. Although there are dorms dissociated with Greek life, there is certainly a heavy Greek presence in South, which could be for better or for worse depending on how one looks at it.

The Pros:

“South is great place for anyone who is concerned about the quality of their dorm room. The rooms there are spacious and each dorm room includes large closets, vanity areas, and plenty of room for activities (without bunk beds). Additionally, the area was recently renovated to include several brand new buildings with private bathrooms, common rooms on every floor, and carpeted hallways—honestly, they look like hotels.”

“As a sophomore who knows nothing but South living, I think the most interesting thing about the area is the variety of students who live there. It is home to a motely crew consisting of Penn State’s athletes, honors students, and sorority girls. As a result, I think pretty much anyone can find a building in South that they’re comfortable in the area.”  — Alex Calderero

The Cons:

South Halls is known for being clean and newly renovated, and some even go as for to compare it to a hotel. However, despite it’s squeaky clean interior, South Halls does not necessarily encompass the classic “freshman experience” if that’s what you’re looking for. You are not coexisting with strictly first-year students, so if that is something you value and hope to make fellow freshman friends as easily as possible, South may be a better option for your sophomore or junior year.

Our Ultimatum:

South Halls is a beautiful residential area and includes halls that are newly renovated and known for being clean and tidy. In terms of cleanliness and general “luxury,” South certainly has most of the other residential areas beat. South Halls may be lacking in freshmen, but if you’re willing to trade that for a great location and nicer facilities, South Halls could be for you.

East Halls

East Halls Stock

About East Halls 

East Halls is infamously associated with the quintessential “freshman experience.” Although certain halls like Pollock have buildings that are entirely freshman as well, and the first-year vibes are still dominant, nothing quite says freshman year like the out-of-the-way East Halls. Never again in your college career will you have the opportunity to coexist with students exactly your age surrounding you everywhere you turn.

East Halls is the largest residence hall complex on campus, with 14 coed residence halls housing first-year students, who share double rooms with one roommate. Supplemental housing is available in every building.

The Pros:

As a freshman, living in East is comforting because you are surrounded by nothing but fellow freshmen. Everyone is in the same boat as you, and for the most part, everyone is looking to meet new friends and get involved right off the bat. The location, though not convenient in terms of getting to class, is not all that bad. East Halls residents live a walk away from both the BJC, football stadium, and IM building: three major PSU hotspots.

“Are the dorms small and in a terrible location? Yes. However, that makes you want to go out and do college things when you’re a new student. Living in East provides a bonding experience with students in the same situation as you that I don’t think you can get in any other residence area on campus.” –Zach Berger

The Cons:

If you value making it to class consistently on time and enjoy an easy commute, East is not your best option. Though East Halls is close to both a White Loop and Blue Loop stop, one will essentially find themselves trekking to class rather frequently. In beautiful weather this is not a problem at all, and strolling through the grass while watching students sunbathe and play Frisbee is great, but once winter hits — you’re not exactly in for a treat.

Our Ultimatum:

If you are a relatively social person who can afford to tough it out for a year in facilities that aren’t exactly luxurious or comparable to South Halls, East could be for you. Classic double dorms are the norm in East, and the sense of community and bonding the freshmen have is certainty impressive in East. Though many freshman reside in Pollock, if you are willing to sacrifice a convenient location and nicer facilities for a chance to be with a population composed entirely of students your age and potentially all your new friends, East is the way to go.

West Halls

West Halls Stock

About West Halls

Though West Halls doesn’t have the biggest presence of freshman, we can agree it’s certainly beautiful. Probably the most scenic and classically “college-esque” residence area on campus, West Halls is constructed in a traditional collegiate residence style. Within West Halls, you will find the gorgeous brick buildings that open onto a quad with symmetrical walkways and arches that lead to the heart of campus. The room accommodations include regular double, small double, and triple rooms.

Waring Commons offers students a computer lab, commons desk, a classroom, cultural lounge, and West Halls Residence Association. One can choose to visit the West Food District, which offers the Waring Square food court and the West Wing (á la carte sandwiches, subs, salads, sushi, and desserts). Also located in Waring Commons is the organic and all-natural Sisu Store and Coffee Bar.

The Pros:

West Halls is not as inconveniently placed, as say, East Halls. The interior and exterior of West are gorgeous, and bring a classic collegiate residence feel to any student. A notable feature of West Halls is its serene and peaceful atmosphere.

“Every time I tell someone that I’m a freshman living in West Halls, they tell me I’m so lucky or that they’re jealous. West Halls has a lot to offer, and comes off to other freshman as the life of luxury. First and foremost, West is quiet and serene at all times. Tuesday at 8 a.m.? Just as undisturbed as a Saturday at 10 p.m. There’s no construction to wake you up in the morning or drunk students coming back late at night to keep you up.” –Lexi Shimkonis

The Cons:

All that being said, West can be secluded to the point of being antisocial.

“It’s great for my studies that no one is running around the building at 3 a.m. or pressuring me to go out four nights a week, but if you’re looking for a freshmen-friendly environment where everyone is trying to meet new people, West may not be the place for you. Alternatively, if you have already met a close group of friends and prefer to focus heavily on your studies, West may be the ideal location for you.” –Lexi Shimkonis

Our Ultimatum:

If you’re looking for the dorm that will allow you to chill out and stay in, West is the place for you. It’s comfortable, quiet, and you don’t feel like you’re in prison. Some other random perks include big rooms, so no sleeping with your roommate’s feet near your head. All of the dorms in West have spacious study rooms with pianos that are often great places to hang out with your friends and do homework together.

“West is especially convenient for students majoring in engineering, such as myself,” Shimkonis said. “A lot of engineering buildings are on on the west side of campus, and the quiet atmosphere makes it easy to focus on my studies.”

Pollock Halls

Photo by Hailey Rohn
Photo by Hailey Rohn

About Pollock Halls: 

Pollock Housing Area is the third-largest housing area on campus and the second-largest for housing first-year students. Students live in coed traditional residence halls, with most residents sharing a double room with one roommate. There are also several supplemental housing spaces in Pollock.

The Pollock Library building, which offers a computer lab, is also located within the housing area. Pollock Commons Building offers students a cultural lounge, recreational room, commons desk, a Residential Computing (ResCom) and the Pollock Halls Residential Association. Students have plenty of food options at the Pollock Dining Commons from an all-you-care-to-eat dining hall to The Mix — a venue that features a convenience store, coffee bar, and grill area.

Pollock is just blocks away from McCoy Natatorium (swimming pools), tennis courts, the varsity track and field facility, Eisenhower Auditorium, and the HUB. This makes visits to the gym extremely convenient, and offers a handful of options in terms of playing sports and keeping active. In general, Pollock is the place to be if you are looking for a large presence of fellow freshmen, yet enjoy a more convenient and centralized location.

The Pros:

Pollock is the second-largest residence area in terms of housing freshman. If you are looking to engage with fellow first-year students and really be a social butterfly, this is your second-best option. However, Pollock offers both a freshman presence and a more convenient location to classes and the center of campus. Pollock dining commons are agreeably better than Findlay’s, and certainly offer a better atmosphere with its funky pop art and colorful couches.

“It’s all about the totality of the circumstances here. You get the freshman bonding experience living in a crappy dorm in both locations, but Pollock offers a few conveniences that don’t deteriorate that experience, but make it a better option to East,” former Pollock resident Kevin Horne said.

The Cons:

Pollock Halls, though dominantly comprised of freshmen, does not compare to East in terms of the quintessential freshman experience. The presence of first-year students simply does not engulf you the same way East Halls does, which may make the more social students feel like they’re missing out a little bit.

Our Ultimatum:

Pollock is an excellent option for an incoming freshman who is looking for a location with many potential new friends their age, but who also values convenience. Pollock is significantly closer to classes and the central location of campus, and offers a more interesting and enjoyable atmosphere in terms of dining.

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So, which is the best on-campus living option for freshmen in your opinion? Comment away below.

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About the Author

Carolyn Popescu

Current senior studying Advertising and Visual Arts, Carolyn has a passion for entertainment and music. She also loves photography, film, graphic design, social media, and all things in between. She's the current Sony Music Marketing Representative for State College, so be sure to reach out to her with any local music scene questions, ideas, proposals, or if you just need someone to geek out about music with.

(Contact her through [email protected] or [email protected])

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